Why I Still Use the Term “Fat Acceptance”

A lot of people don’t. They prefer “body acceptance” or “size acceptance,” to be more inclusive of people of all sizes and abilities who struggle with body image. And I totally respect that. It’s already come up a couple of times in comments on my posts at Shakesville that this culture encourages body hatred (and garden variety self-hatred), especially in women, period; that is not by any means the exclusive province of fatties. And in my ideal world, for sure, all people would be content with and grateful for the bodies they’ve got, and nobody would shit on them for being too fat, too thin, the wrong color, the wrong shape, too hairy, not hairy enough, whatev.

BUT. I still see fat acceptance as its own thing, and I’m going to keep calling it that, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s important to me to reclaim the word “fat.” It’s not a bad word. It’s not intrinsically insulting. All it tells you is that this person has more visible fat on her frame than a thin person does — and since in my case, that’s the plain truth, I don’t have any problem with being described that way. I have a problem with people who would describe me that way with the intention to wound, but not with the word itself. I’m short, I’m blonde, I’m pale, I’m hourglass-shaped, I’m fat. Some of those characteristics are more desirable in this society than others, but all any of those words tell you is what I look like. Not what I eat, not how much I exercise, not whether I’m healthy, not how strong my moral fiber is — hell, not even what my natural hair color is. (Very, very dark blonde. Maybe even brown by now; I haven’t actually seen it in years.) They just tell you what I look like right now. And as such, I should have no fear of them — they’re certainly not revealing any big secrets.

Second, and more importantly, fat acceptance may be a subcategory of body acceptance, but — with all due respect to naturally thin people who have been called names and thin people with serious body image issues (and disabled people and people with eating disorders who have a whole other set of challenges to contend with) — it is a lot harder to be fat than thin in this culture. Trust me on this one; I’ve been both. And it’s a lot harder to be extremely fat than only sort-of fat, like I am.

There’s a simple reason for this: Fat people are hated. And I mean hated. As people have explained over and over on this blog and others like it, I can be irritated or even hurt if someone calls me a honky or a breeder, but I still don’t get to say I understand the experience of racism or homophobia because, hello, white, straight people do not suffer in this culture for being white and straight. Those insults don’t have the weight of cultural and institutional hatred behind them, so no, they don’t fucking hurt me just as much as the equivalent racist or homophobic words hurt a person of color or a gay person. Any reasonable person knows that to pretend otherwise is flat-out absurd.

And it’s the same with fat. No, I don’t mean fatphobia is equivalent to racism or homophobia — I don’t even want to open that can of worms. I just mean that anti-fat comments do have real cultural and institutional hatred behind them, whereas anti-thin comments just don’t. People aren’t denied jobs because they’re thin. People aren’t paid less because they’re thin. People aren’t routinely accused of being lazy, smelly, disgusting, unhealthy, and morally bankrupt because they’re thin. People aren’t encouraged by the media, the government, their friends, and their families to hate themselves for being thin, and to spend any amount of money to become less thin. Surveys don’t show that a frightening percentage of people would rather lose a limb than be thin, or that even kindergarteners don’t want to be friends with the thin kids.

So if people call you “bag of bones” or “beanpole” or accuse you of having an eating disorder because you’re naturally thin — or worse yet, go on about how what a lucky bitch you are for being thin — I’m sorry. Sincerely. That’s mean, and it sucks. I have naturally thin friends who have been hearing that shit all their lives, and I know it’s really hurtful, and really damaging to your body image. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

But it is still just not the same thing as being treated badly because you’re fat. It’s not even in the same universe.

So to me, saying, “I believe in body acceptance, not just fat acceptance” is like saying, “I believe in humanism, not just feminism.” I believe in both — but we damn well need a fat acceptance movement, just as surely as we need a feminist one, and for the same basic reason: fat bodies are just about last on the list of potentially acceptable bodies, much as women are second of two on the list of human beings. We’re playing catch-up. It’s that simple.

Furthermore, I get this queasy feeling that some people only use the terms “body acceptance” or “size acceptance” because they’re afraid that the words “fat acceptance” will get them laughed out of the room. Or maybe off the planet. Like, hey, maybe if we include thin people and point out that they have some of the same problems, people will actually take us seriously! Sadly, that’s probably true, to an extent. But it’s also incredibly depressing. And it’s exactly why fat acceptance is and always will be a whole other ball of wax.

I love my thin friends, and I’d like to smack the people who call them names and try to make them feel bad about the way their bodies are naturally built. I absolutely welcome thin allies to the fat acceptance movement. And I would like everyone — fat, thin, in-between, disabled, temporarily able-bodied, short, tall, hairy, bald, with any skin tone or texture, any shape or bone structure — to feel good about their bodies.

But fat acceptance is still what I’m talking about specifically here. And that is a whole different thing.

24 thoughts on “Why I Still Use the Term “Fat Acceptance””

  1. Very good comparison between humanism and feminism. I have no objection to “body acceptance” or “size acceptance” as inclusive terms. I do think the principals of fat acceptance can be more broadly applied. What bothers me is the use of them as exclusionary terms meant to cut out the fat rather than broaden the mission. While everyone should be free and encouraged to accept the body they have, the fact remains that the pressure and hostility fat people face is a unique issue which does need a more specific focus than the broad inclusiveness of “body acceptance”. The fact also is that they should not cancel each other out. If you really do believe in “body acceptance”, you should also believe in “fat acceptance”. And nothing in “fat acceptance” should preclude believing that all people should be accepted for the bodies they HAVE (as opposed to the bodies they are told they should have instead). Indeed, I don’t think one does a good job with FA if they don’t see that the principals should apply universally.

  2. BStu, I almost e-mailed you right after I posted this, ’cause I figured you’d be all over this one. :) Excellent points.

  3. The humanism/feminism analogy is right on, though I personally haven’t run into the “I believe in body acceptance, not just fat acceptance” line too much. But I have no doubt it’s out there.

    The reason I sometimes use the term “body acceptance” is that people sometimes think I’m a fat-acceptance poseur because at the moment I’m in between fat and thin. But that’s more of an in-fighting problem than anything else.

  4. You raise some excellent points. Originally, when my blog was still in its mental gestation, i considered doing a fat acceptance blog. But honestly? I suck at politics. And there are so many more people who are better at explaining the politics of fat acceptance than me… I think if i tried to do the same kind of thing as you or The Rotund, it’d be a pale comparison at best: i might as well call it “Wimpy McWeaksauce’s Imitation Blog”, lol.

    Lots of fat people want a champion to speak up for them, but are still so ashamed of their fat that if someone presses them on the issue, they can’t stand up for themselves.

    But i’m also trying to take on issues of body acceptance for people who, regardless of their size, dislike or even hate their own bodies due to chronic pain issues. The two issues different enough to where i probably should have separate blogs, but i think i’d fry my brain out if i tried to do that.

    My theory is that if you don’t like who you are inside, it’s incredibly difficult (if not altogether impossible) to really be satisfied with who you are on the outside – regardless of what you look like. If you’ve got an antagonistic relationship with your body (be it from physical or emotional pain), all of the champions in the world can’t stop the bullies from seeking you out as a target.

  5. All that rambling and i forgot to add the important line that pulled it all together: for me, it’s not “all types of body” acceptance, it’s more “acceptance of one’s own body and self” that i’m going for.

  6. Lindsay, I totally get what you’re saying, and I think it’s awesome. The other thing I didn’t get around to adding is that for me personally, it’s also just a matter of focus. I focus on fat acceptance, because that’s the struggle I know best, just like I focus on feminism instead of any number of other worthy causes. I love what you’re doing, and I definitely didn’t mean to criticize anyone who focuses on body acceptance in broader terms.

  7. Kate, no worries… i didn’t take it in a critical fashion. It was kind of synchronistic: just as i was reading your post, i got into a conversation with a dear friend of mine in IM about almost the exact same topic. So i was all full of thinkybits and warmed up to the topic and decided to be a little rambly. :)

    But it does occur to me that a lot of the blogs i read seem to be bouncing off each other in both positive and negative ways, sometimes (especially in the latter cases) without stating as such. Being a newcomer to the active side of things (a poster as well as a reader), i think i might be a bit oversensitive to the notion that people might be responding to me when they’re actually not. In any case, if i’ve come across as a bit twitchy from time to time, that’s probably why, lol.

  8. You know, in the last few seasons of “Friends”, I would get so angry when they would drag out the fat jokes (gawd, Monica in a fat suit… again) and the gay jokes (we geddit… Chandler’s secretly gay). I really wanted to like the show, and to like the characters, but the fat and gay jokes were just so mean spirited, I felt betrayed as though they were real friends who were saying these things for a cheap laugh. Yet, I never saw anyone call them on their bigotry – and I was even in a class that critiqued TV!

    When the “nice” TV shows start showing women (and men) of substance in a positive light, we’ll know we’re on the road. Right now, I don’t think we can even see the road from where we are!

  9. I”m not much of a political writer, either, so I’ll just say this: I’d like to see a time when both the words “fat” and “thin” are neutral terms, without the loaded messages and attacks attached to their undersides.

  10. I use both terms, and I’ll tell ya why–I think there are two different (but obviously and inextricably) related things going on here. Perhaps I just made this up and it doesn’t make sense, but here it is anyway.

    I think of “fat acceptance” as involving fat folks in general. Women clearly struggle more with this issue socially and culturally than men do, but life is hard in similar ways for ANYBODY who’s fat (in terms of finding clothes, jobs, dates, health care, etc.). Fat acceptance, as I read it, involves agitating to make those things available equally to everyone, regardless of size.

    “Body acceptance” or “size acceptance” to me, though, is more of a feminist issue. I can’t remember where I read this–maybe in the fabulous When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies–but it was something along the lines of “body acceptance isn’t just an issue for fat women, it’s an issue for all women.” IMO, women of all shapes and sizes need to get on board with this concept and realize that one of the most revolutionary things they can do is accept their bodies AS IS–small boobies, hairy upper lips, giant bums, WHATEVER, and all.

  11. When I thik of Fat Acceptance I don’t think of the acceptance of fat people I think of acceptance of the substance we call Fat. And for that reason I think it applies to everyone, not just fat people, to come to terms with the fact that having a little (or a lot) of extra fat is not the end of the world. (And that if the end of the world comes that extra fat may help them out.)

    Over the weekend I saw a commercial for Special K it was, of course, all about losing weight. The thing is, the actress in the commercial was BEAUTIFUL. She was thin, and pretty and had a great figure and the whole commercial was talking about how much weight you could lose if you would just eat special K. For some reason (I think i’ve seen that commerical 50 times) it really popped out at me. Why would someone that pretty be worried about losing 10 pounds or whatever? Where exactly are those 10 pounds supposed to come from? Her boobs? That tiny amount of fat keeping her collar bone for poking the camera man in the eye?

    I mean really, how is ANYONE (Much less a 6′ 300 pound giantess like me) supposed to feel good about themselves when even gorgeous people are trying to remove every last ounce of fat from their bodies?

    I think it would be good if everyone could just accept that fat is not that bad for you. It keeps us warm in winter, and stores extra fuel for when we need it, it also provides a nice padding if you are clusmy like me! It is a natural part of our bodies unlike a lot of the other things we put into them.

  12. I’ve been away all week and I’m catching up. This was a beautiful post.
    I have not made my blog about fat acceptance because, like Lindsay, I suck at politics. But also, I am no poster child for fat acceptance. Or certainly not for fat activism. In fact, I get a little attacked for my ambiguity now and again. I’m just a poster child for… well, for me. AND I want, more than I already do, to accept my fat. AND I want, more than I care to admit, to be smaller.
    And I’m with Penguin… ‘fat Monica’ and Friends was gruesome. I was just contemplating her this week. Fat Monica had a nasal voice and was clueless and sexless and awkward and food obsessed. She was NOT the same character! Apparently you can’t be fat and a clean freak; you can’t be fat and ultra-competitive. And it turns out that once you get thin, you get confident, sexual, smart, and kind of cool. Hmph! Who knew???

  13. “If you’ve got an antagonistic relationship with your body (be it from physical or emotional pain), all of the champions in the world can’t stop the bullies from seeking you out as a target.”

    Lindsay, that’s a suifficiently powerful statement that it HAS to be repeated at least once. I think I’m putting it up somewhere prominent in my powder room. Or maybe my living room.

  14. In response to sweet machine (laura)’s first post – I hope I’m not posting something that’s already been said, but I kind of think it makes sense for a thin or “in-between” person to use the term “fat acceptance”. If I heard a thin person say “body acceptance”, I might think they were just sounding PC without meaning it. If I heard them say “fat acceptance” I’d probably be more likely to think, “Woah – tell me more!” It would catch my ear. I’d wonder if they had ever been “fat”, or what made them so ballsy to SAY the word “fat” (without saying it with hate, which is of course allowed by our culture).

    Of course, maybe our preferred terminology has a LOT more to do with our personal history and how much the word “fat” has a sting. For me it has a relatively low level of sting.

    I am completely naive to the world of FA however; this is a great site to read and absorb!

  15. I know I’m reading this really late, but whatever.

    Try being mistaken for a guy – ALL THE TIME – because you’re tall (really tall, not like “that girl is kind of tall” tall) not too skinny, not fat, and you have no boobs. I mean, I was mistaken for a guy in drag at a halloween party once, on a night that I had actually felt kind of hot. I wound up just leaving the party early and taking off the dress and I haven’t gone all out on halloween since. I know people stare at me when I wear heels and they wonder if I’m a man or a woman. If I were at least fat, they’d know from the shape of my body, but since I am thin and flat chested I just look in between.

  16. I know this post is really old and nobody will even read this but I had to respond:
    “I just mean that anti-fat comments do have real cultural and institutional hatred behind them, whereas anti-thin comments just don’t…People aren’t routinely accused of being lazy, smelly, disgusting, unhealthy, and morally bankrupt because they’re thin. People aren’t encouraged by the media, the government, their friends, and their families to hate themselves for being thin, and to spend any amount of money to become less thin.”
    If you really believe this, you haven’t spent any time in the Black community. Thin Black women are constantly told how disgusting and unhealthy they are. Black people are encouraged (contrary to your white-centric beliefs) by media, friends, and family to gain weight and hate their naturally thin bodies. If you are thin, you constantly hear this: “Nobody wants a bone but a dog” which means that only dogs would want to date a skinny woman. Black women spend plenty of money on weight-gain shakes and pills.
    Come on now.

  17. I disagree, Shirley. I’m black, and in the black community it’s still the fat women who get the ridicule. It’s still the fat women who are ignored and pushed aside. It’s still the fat women who have a harder time than the thin women. Black males are more likely to go after the thin women than the fat ones. However, fat women are also associated with good food in the black community (unlike in the white community). The few black women who do want to gain weight are quickly asked why. It’s worse because black people have been so thoroughly brainwashed by mainstream white culture, so anything that doesn’t fit the thin/white/blue-eyed/blonde beauty standard is considered ugly, and as black people, we’re considered to be absolutely hideous. If you honestly think that thin black women have it so hard, I think you’re just in denial.

  18. As an aside, I am loosely involved in Deaf culture. Around here, when using signlanguage it is common to describe someone by their physical attributes, and body shape is used as often as hair colour. There isn’t the same stigma attached to having a nice soft gut overhanging your belt. Its just another configuration that people come in.

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